In a study for the International Council on Clean Transportation [full study in PDF format here], Lotus Engineering sought to prove that major reductions in the mass and fuel consumption of mass-market vehicles would be possible by 2020 through the use of new materials and architectures. Starting with a Toyota Venza crossover, Lotus was able to show that a 38 percent reduction in vehicle mass (not counting the powertrain, 33 percent reduction including powertrain) will be possible with a mere three percent increase in component costs. Based on DOE estimates, that means the Venza’s efficiency could be improved by 23 percent solely through changes in materials and design, with future powertrain efficiency gains adding cumulative benefits.
The study also considered a 2017 model-year concept, and found that a similar program of weight-saving could reduce vehicle mass by 21 percent (excluding powertrain) and actually reduce costs by two percent. Weight and cost reductions are summarized below.
The moral of the story? Reducing the weight of new vehicles remains an effective option for improving efficiency without huge cost increases. Lotus may have picked an easy target for weight reduction in the 5,000+ pound, five-passenger Venza, but it’s still an effective demonstration of Colin Chapman’s principles.